SPUR 2019: Baby Affect and Behavior Study (BABY study)


The developmental origins of childhood physical, emotional, and behavioral problems begin in utero. Prenatal experiences “program” the infant for the context s/he will encounter upon birth, laying a foundation for health outcomes and disease. However, the biological mechanisms linking the prenatal environment to early infant outcomes remain understudied. The application of epigenetic methods to human behavior is a relatively new and innovative endeavor devoted to understanding how environmental influences shape gene expression independent of DNA structure. Infants exposed to extreme stress during pregnancy show epigenetic adaptations, consistent with theories that biological systems calibrate in preparation for a high-risk postnatal environment.

The goal of this study is to advance the science and technology of prenatal programing research by:

  1. identifying mothers with the full range of emotional distress and carefully characterizing maternal stress reactivity (e.g., autonomic and neuroendocrine) in a laboratory assessment; and
  2. developing a novel, hypothesis-driven assay to assess epigenetic processes withinInfant in a network of genes.

When the aims of this project are realized we will have an improved understanding of early outcomes for infants of dysregulated mothers. We will also have created a novel assay, which will promote rapid replication as well as new investigations of stress-related epigenetic marks.

Student Role

Students have the opportunity to:

  1. Collect data with pregnant women, their infants, and toddlers
  2. Carve out their own research project using BABY study data
  3. Learn how to clean psychophysiological data with mothers, their infants, and toddlers
  4. Learn more about epigenetics, early life stress, the development of psychopathology, and social and emotional development through lab meetings, reading published literature, and discussions
  5. Learning how the research process unfolds: from conducting literature reviews, to participating in experiment design, to collecting data, cleaning and coding data, analyzing data, and disseminating findings to a larger audience

More information can be found here.

Student Learning Outcomes & Benefits

Being a part of our thriving lab will:

  1. Provide you with “hands on” experience in developmental research techniques.
  2. Helps you to decide whether they want to go to graduate school in psychology, social work, or medical school.
  3. Helps you learn more about the research process and become more intelligent consumers of research.
  4. Provides you with “real world” experiences that will help you prepare for graduate school, education, social work, or medicine

Elisabeth Conradt
Assistant Professor

College of Social & Behavioral Science

Our lab is a large, dynamic, thriving research environment. I meet with my students once per week as part of lab meetings and individually as needed. I am very excited when students approach me with a desire to conduct a specific research project. I work with them closely to develop their aims and hypotheses and I help them analyze their own data. Together we discuss the results and implications. The student will end the summer by presenting their findings at our weekly laboratory meetings.